July 23, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers research finds 1.5 million NJ residents are under excessive stress

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According to research conducted by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, over a million New Jerseyans have been under a "great deal" of stress within the last month. This statistic was driven primarily by health issues and financial instability.

About one-fourth of New Jersey adults have said they felt a “great deal” of stress in the past month, according to a New Jersey Health & Well-Being Poll conducted by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.

Joel Cantor, director of the Center, said that they are a research center that focuses on doing analysis on things like the insurance market and the in-state Medicaid program in order to improve health care policy.

About a quarter of New Jerseyans, approximately 1.5 million people, reported a “great deal” of stress in the previous month, Cantor said. The poll’s findings put two driving factors on the hook — financial troubles and poor health.

Kerry Anne McGeary, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), said that finding stress was not necessarily surprising, but what the stress was related to was unexpected.

“New Jersey is (a) high education state (and) high-income state, so we actually expected lower levels of stress at first,” Cantor said, echoing a similar statement.

When broken down, the reasons for these stressors may become clearer.

Celine LaBelle, a Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy sophomore and member of the New Jersey Public Health Association—Rutgers Student Chapter, said that stress and sickness sometimes go hand-in-hand.

“I know that obviously stress can have an effect on your immune system. So you can get sick, and that is why sometimes, around like midterms or finals, a lot of your friends are sick,” LaBelle said.

She explained that because someone is stressed, their immune system is repressed and sometimes that can have an effect on a person’s health. The next step from the public health standpoint, she said, is educating the public.

LaBelle said something as simple as campaigns like the “wash your hands” campaign can help prevent and manage outbreaks of diseases such as the flu.

People who are sick are much more likely to report having stress, Cantor said, and people with financial troubles are about two times more likely to report stress than the population as a whole.

When looking at different demographics Cantor said that the poll did not look at specific occupations, but that they found it was more simply about the money and whether or not people were having trouble paying their bills.

The poll also found that African Americans, people who are not born in the United States and, to some degree, women all reported higher levels of stress when compared across demographics. The poll did not get into why, but Cantor said that African Americans, for example, might experience discrimination which could result in more stress.

“These findings are unfortunate but not surprising,” Cantor said.

LaBelle said that she thinks college students are very stressed and that financial troubles come into play there too.

Making it easier and more of a “happy experience,” to go talk about money with the financial aid people would be beneficial, she said.

“The FAFSA is already just complicated,” LaBelle said. “No one likes doing that … no one wants to talk about not being financially secure, but you have to if you are going to be getting an education.”

Although more research still needs to be done to find the solution to New Jersey’s stress problem, LaBelle said that there are some good resources on-campus for Rutgers students.

She said that the Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is a beneficial service, especially because it is affordable and located close to students.

“Access is a huge thing that we talk about,” LaBelle said.

She also said that educating the public, along with finding solutions to stress, is an important step.

McGeary felt similarly and said that RWJF is working on different things to improve health in the state.

Part of that, according to the Foundation’s Health and Well-Being Project Summary, is focusing on family and community health along with personal health. McGeary said that the foundation has a “special devotion” to children and is doing state and nationwide work to promote the health and well-being of children. That includes fostering positive family, school and community environments, she said.

“We are a solution-oriented foundation so we recognize that exposing (it) is important but really understanding how to improve situations is important. So we're working on a variety of different things to see what policies and programs can alleviate stress in an equitable way,” McGeary said.

Ryan Stiesi

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